What remains of Xīnxīng Theater 新興戲院 can be found just east of the train station in Dàlín 大林, a modest town of approximately 30,000 just north of Chiayi City 嘉義市 in Taiwan. Despite its relatively small size Dalin once supported five movie theaters, providing entertainment for sugar factory workers and the many soldiers stationed at nearby military bases. Xinxing Theater (not to be confused with the one in Xinpu) originally opened as Rénshān Theater 仁山戲院 in 1954 and remained in business until 1992. Eventually the theater was renovated and subdivided into a billiards hall and KTV (also known as a karaoke box) before it was finally abandoned sometime around 2013. Nowadays there is talk of buying the property and transforming it into a creative market but its ultimate fate remains unknown.
Dalin is the epicenter of an unlikely cinematic renaissance spearheaded by Jiāng Mínghè 江明赫, a professional soldier and theater enthusiast profiled in this excellent article (in Chinese but worth running through Google Translate). Thanks to his efforts Wànguó Theater 萬國戲院, located a short distance away from Xinxing Theater on the other side of the railway line, was recently restored and reopened for special events and film screenings. He is also quite active online, operating several Facebook pages including one dedicated to Xinxing Theater, and has unflinchingly documented the histories of many theaters around southern Taiwan1.
One of the more interesting themes to emerge from Jiang’s accounts of the history of theater in Dalin is the close association with the erotic entertainment industry. Showing erotic films is commonly a symptom of decline in the theater business—but in Dalin it sounds as if Jiǎn Déqīng 簡德卿, town mayor in the 1950s, actively supported the development of theaters and teahouses specializing in the carnal arts. In fact, the former mayor was responsible for building two theaters in town, including the one seen in this post2. Even in the booming years of the 1960s these theaters were known for lewd stage shows and stripteases, a practice known locally as niúròuchǎng 牛肉場 (literally “beef market”), although these were by no means the only forms of entertainment offered here.
Finally, I noticed a striking similarity between the architectural style of Xinxing Theater and Yuandong Theater in Běidǒu 北斗. Both were built around the same time so there’s a decent chance the same builders may have been involved.
- Despite the unusual abundance of photos and information available online this theater was one of my random finds on Google Maps. It’s interesting what you can find browsing around satellite maps in search of buildings of the expected dimensions! ↩
- Rénhǎi Theater 仁海戲院, renamed Dōngyà Theater 東亞戲院 after it was sold to a new owner, was located just around the corner from Xinxing Theater. It was reputedly in operation until 1992 and was demolished in 2016. One more small note: both theaters are located along a street named after this famous mayor! ↩